An A.A. degree is an Associate of Arts degree, while an A.A.S. degree is an Associate of Applied Science degree. Both are awarded upon completion of two-year college programs with similar core curriculum requirements.

The A.A. degree encompasses both liberal arts and sciences, but the A.A.S. degree places a higher emphasis on math and the sciences, according to WorldWideLearn. A.A. degrees instead have an emphasis on the humanities. Associate degrees prepare students to continue on to four-year university programs, with the credits applying toward final completion of a bachelor's degree.

Many students with A.A.S. degrees find employment in fields such as computer science, programming, aviation or medical assisting. A.A. degree holders are more likely to continue with their educations and enter bachelor's programs in fields such as English, history, communications, social sciences and international relations.

The advantages of A.A. and A.A.S. degrees as compared to Bachelor's degrees or higher include a significantly lower tuition cost, a faster completion time and a concentration on a specialty that often leads to immediate employment. Financial aid is typically available for students in two-year programs through the same avenues as for four-year programs. Degrees from accredited colleges carry the most prestige and typically lead to more employment opportunities upon graduation.